GENEVA -- Citroen said on Tuesday it hoped to nab an extra percentage point of European market share this year thanks to its popular small cars, helping offset sagging demand in key markets.
Brand chief Claude Satinet told Reuters on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show that he was aiming to win 7.7 percent of the western European car and light truck market in 2003, up around one percentage point from last year.
Citroen is the smaller of two sister brands that make up PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe's second-biggest carmaker.
"Our market share will be good -- 7.7 percent seems a good target," he said, adding that Citroen's growth would outpace that of its larger sister Peugeot.
Satinet said at a news conference at the show that Citroen had kicked off the year in style, estimating sales of its cars and light trucks in western Europe had increased 14 percent in February, despite a four percent dip by the market as a whole.
This would take its share of the car and light utility vehicle market in February to 7.7 percent -- up one percentage point from the same month last year and a level Satinet hoped the firm would maintain for the whole year.
Separately, PSA said in a statement that it estimated the group's European market share in February was 16.7 percent, up from 16.5 percent in January.
The company as a whole, including both Citroen and Peugeot, grabbed almost 15 percent of European car market share in 2002 and has said it aimed to improve this in 2003 as it continues to boost sales despite waning demand.
Citroen grabbed 7.3 percent of the European new car market in January, after ending 2002 with a 6.2 percent slice of the market. Official European figures for February are due out later this month.
Satinet told Reuters he expected the European market as a whole to dip by between zero and two percent, echoing an earlier estimate by PSA Chairman Jean-Martin Folz, and said he could not comment on whether a war in Iraq could stifle demand further.
Citroen is aiming to sell between 1.35 and 1.4 million cars globally in 2003, meaning it will still lag sales of Peugeot cars, but will account for a heftier proportion of total group sales than it did last year.
"That is certain -- we will post stronger growth than Peugeot this year thanks to our products," Satinet said. "That's what we predicted and it's already happening."
The brand's relative fortunes were evident in France in February, when Citroen lifted new car sales by 9.8 percent while sales of Peugeot brand cars underperformed a weaker market to fall 8.5 percent.
Some analysts have fretted that tipping the balance toward Citroen risks shrinking overall profit margins -- already well above the norm for mass carmakers -- since current Citroen models are on average less profitable than their Peugeot counterparts.
Citroen has kept sales rising in a tough economic environment, in part thanks to its hit C3 bubble-shaped car, helping PSA cruise past sputtering rivals in 2002 to post solid profits.